Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Drop in Lankans seeking jobs in West Asia


The number of Sri Lankans seeking jobs in West Asian countries is showing a gradual decline due to low salaries and poor labour rights, officials said, but job agencies put the blame on a minimum wage condition set by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.

According to SLBFE statistics, the number of Sri Lankans going to Saudi Arabia for work dropped to 63,389 last year from 74,894 in 2015. Some 59,527 Sri Lankan job seekers left for Qatar and 32,415 for Kuwait last year, whereas the figures for 2015 were 65,139 and 38,473 respective­ly.

The recent Central Bank Report says the total number of people who migrated for foreign employment last year was 242,930 and it was 263,443 in 2015 – a reduction of 20,513.

SLBFE Deputy General Manager Priyantha Weerasekar­a told the Sunday Times the bureau had put forward some proposals to protect labour rights and solve the issue of low salaries.

“We ensure that basic requiremen­ts like food, accommodat­ion and air passage are provided. To solve the salary issue, we have set the minimum salary of US$ 350 for an unskilled worker US$ 400 for skilled workers,” he said.

'600 women, 39 male workers physically or sexually abused'

The SLBFE received 6,438 complaints from Sri Lankan migrant workers last year, with 4,402 of them coming from female workers while some 639 complaints related to physical or sexual abuse.

A majority of these complaints related to employers failing to honour the contracts. Some 781 female migrant workers and 672 male migrant workers had complained of

The official said Sri Lankans were now showing an increasing tendency to find jobs in South Korea, Israel and other countries where labour rights were protected.

According to SLBFE statistics, 8,609 Sri Lankans sought employment in South Korea and 2,274 in Israel last year. The figures for 2015 were 6,967 and 1,990 respective­ly.

However, job agencies blame the bureau’s minimum wage move for the decline in the number of people seeking jobs in West Asian countries.

Wijaya Undupitiya, General Secretary of the Associatio­n of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA), said several job agencies had closed down operations because the minimum wage condition had reduced the job orders breach of contracts.

Some 630 female workers and 423 male workers had complained that they were not paid the salaries promised to them.

The bureau also received 600 complaints last year from female employees who claimed they had been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, while 39 male employees complained under the same category. to Sri Lanka.

“Many countries send workers to West Asia. When Sri Lanka sets restrictio­ns on wages, employers will be forced to hire people who are willing to work for lesser salaries,” he said.

The SLBFE statistics, however, do not indicate the actual figures because Sri Lankans also leave for overseas employment on visit visas.

The disadvanta­ge is that the bureau is unable to help those travelling on visit visas and finding employment overseas, when they are caught or have an issue with their employers, Mr. Weeraseker­a said. Most of them become illegal immigrants, as a result, he said, adding that there is no proper mechanism at Sri Lanka’s airports to stop such job seekers travelling on visit visas.

“Yet when such illegal migrant workers seek refuge in safehouses run by Sri Lankan Embassies in West Asian nations, we look after their basic needs. But we cannot intervene in their labour disputes with their employers,” he said.

ALFEA’s Undupitiya said the bureau needed to implement measures to stop illegal migrant workers travelling on visit visas.

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